At 122 pages, All Our Squandered Beauty by Yorkshire writer Amanda Huggins packs a powerful punch. It is a sensitively managed novella of a teenager navigating young love, relationships and sex while pulled underwater by grief for the father who died when she was young. His disappearance at sea has never been explained, his body never found; but gossip is becoming history. Kara Bradshaw, believing he would never leave her, hangs on to memories of time they spent together, sure of his love.
It is 1978 at Elmwick Bay in Yorkshire. Kara’s youth was punctuated by life beside the sea, gathering sea glass from the sand, identifying the birds flying overhead, watching stars in the night sky, tales of local legends and folklore. All occupations she enjoyed with her father. Now as a seventeen-year-old, Kara hangs out with bikers at Charelli’s café and the amusement arcade but fancies her art teacher, Leo. A thread running throughout the book is that all is not always as it seems, something Kara must understand if she is to accept the past and move on into adulthood. But first she must acknowledge her grief and let her father go.
A promising artist, Kara cannot wait to leave school for university in London. But her best friend Louise seems happy to settle for a life at home with her boyfriend, and Kara’s mother has moved inland where the sea is out of sight. Kara knows her boyfriend Marty would like to marry her and have babies, but she wants more. More love, more life, just more. Huggins writes with delicacy about a fragile teenager who knows what she wants but not why, seeking a path of learning without a father to guide her. Seven years have passed since villagers gossiped that Ged Bradshaw hadn’t really died at sea but ran away with Lola Armitage. Kara sees Lola everywhere, follows her only to discover it is someone she has never seen before.
Kara, unable to understand she still grieves for her father in hundreds of small ways, is seeking definitive answers to unanswerable questions. She looks for escape and finds it in art teacher Leo who offers her place at a summer art school in Greece, funded by the Philip Patou Art Foundation. Kara jumps at the chance. What she finds in Greece is not what she expected. Huggins is a successful travel writer and her description of the island of Lyros is beautiful, seen through the eyes of artist Kara who compares it with her seaside hometown.
This coming-of-age story passes quickly, I read it in two sittings and was left curious. I longed to see more – of Kara’s childhood and of the woman she will become. All Our Squandered Beauty is the story of one summer in her life, interwoven with reminiscences of her father. Huggins’ writing is, as always, delightful, her technical skill invisible on the page leaving the reader to dwell on the emotions. The short fiction form doesn’t allow the exploration in depth of all Huggins’ themes, and hopefully she is turning her attention to a novel.
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Why is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Amanda’s favourite comfort read?
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